Justin Huggler, Telegraph, April 21, 2016
Angela Merkel is facing a government rebellion over her decision to allow a German comedian to be prosecuted for insulting the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
A senior minister is reportedly planning to put a bill before parliament to abolish Germany’s lese-majeste law before the case can even come to court.
Heiko Maas, the justice minister, has already drawn up legislation and plans to put it before parliament within days, according to the Rheinische Post newspaper.
Jan Böhmermann faces up to five years in prison under the controversial law for a satirical poem he read out on television about Mr Erdogan.
The case has divided Mrs Merkel’s coalition, with senior ministers openly criticising her decision to allow the prosecution.
Mr Maas’ initiative follows announcements by two of Germany’s state governments that they will seek to have the lese-majeste law scrapped before Mr Maas can face trial.
Prosecutions under the law can only be brought with the express permission of the German government.
Critics have accused the German chancellor of sacrificing free speech to placate the authoritarian Mr Erdogan and safeguard the EU’s migrant deal with Turkey.
Previous governments have rejected requests made on behalf of President George W Bush and Pope Benedict XVI.
Mrs Merkel’s main coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), have broken with convention and made it clear they oppose her decision to allow the prosecution.
Two of the party’s most senior ministers, Mr Maas and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister, held their own press conference to disown the decision within hours of its announcement.
“The special crime of insulting a foreign head of state is out-of-date,” Mr Maas said at the time. “The idea of lese-majeste no longer has a place in our criminal law.”
It later emerged the press conference had been agreed in advance as the price of the SPD’s acceptance of the decision.
But it appears the party is now moving to abolish the law outright.
Mrs Merkel committed her government to scrapping the law by 2018 even as she announced the prosecution of Mr Böhmermann would go ahead.
But the new legislation prepared by Mr Maas would reportedly overturn the law immediately.
It follows moves by the state governments of North Rhine-Westphalia and Hamburg to have the law overturned.
“I want to bring a Bundesrat proposal to abolish the offence of lese-majeste immediately. Then it would no longer be possible to convict Mr Böhmermann.” Thomas Kuschatsky, the North Rhine-Westphalia justice minister, said.
The Bundesrat, the German upper house of parliament, represents the various state governments, meaning they can introduce their own legislation at a federal level.
“The judiciary has to take into consideration the unsually sensitive nature of Mr Erdogan,” Mr Kuschatsky added.
Even if the law is overturned, Mr Böhmermann may still face the courts. Mr Erdogan has also filed a complaint as a private individual for defamation.
Mr Böhmermann has defended his poem as a satirical response after Turkey summoned the German ambassador to complain about a song mocking Mr Erdogan that was aired on German television.